28 June 2012

On Wildfires, Weddings, and Weeping

Life has been a little overwhelming lately. Especially as Chris was out of the country (he's back now), and everything around us began to bring terrifying news, I've somewhat retreated into myself. At the end of each day, I have felt largely overwhelmed, anxious, and utterly exhausted.

It started with Christopher leaving for Nepal. He had a great trip. In all honesty, I had a good stretch the first few days, and was really blessed by the ability to put some extra time in at my job and to spend time with the family I worked for this past spring.

Then I went to our beautiful friend, Helenka's, wedding the first Saturday Chris was gone, and I came home to find the area to the west of us aflame. As I drove back toward Fort Collins, I thought, 'Man, that smoke cloud was not there when I left this morning.'

And it wasn't. After arriving home, I calculated what the fire would have to do to get to my home. The following Thursday, we could see it descend into Lory State Park, which is easily visible from town. Last Saturday, winds caused the fire to once more jump the highway and the river and head quickly north - where it burned even more homes than it already had.

To date, 257 homes have burned in the High Park Fire. One of them belonged to a couple from our church. All of them have families and stories and meaningful items that can never be re-gained.

Today, the crews reached 75 percent containment, with full containment expected July 15 - an entire two weeks earlier than they expected two days ago. In that, and in the rain that fell hurriedly to the ground tonight, I praise God.

In the meantime, though, I worked. I went to my parents' house, celebrated our nephew's third birthday in Colorado Springs with Christopher's family and waited eagerly for his return, and I wept over my barrenness as I held our littlest nephew in my arms and sang him to sleep.

And, as Christopher came home, news started trickling in about a little girl who is the daughter of our friends and neighbors, Anthony and Sam. The reality of a three-year-old having cancer is surreal, as everything seems to be these days. The family is still finding out more specifically what type of cancer, how advanced, and what types of treatment will follow. They covet your prayers. Please keep Esther, her parents, and their other four kiddos in your prayers. Anthony and Sam are both trying to keep updates posted on Sam's blog, "I will most gladly." I woke up last Saturday and just wept, and I continue to weep whenever I read more about what's happening and the faith in which Anthony and Sam are walking.

Last weekend, we celebrated five years of marriage (yay!), bought a car, and went to another wedding to celebrate the long-awaited union of Jimmy's owner and her (now) husband. We came home to  news of more wildfires.

I don't think I ever really understood what it means that the earth groans under the chains of the curse until these last few weeks. Seeing images of flame engulfing people's homes on the news last night in Colorado Springs might be one of the most deeply impressing images I have ever encountered. If this is a foretaste of how God plans to destroy the earth so it can be made new again at the end of everything, I am beginning to get a visual for what that may look like. There are so many people we know who are in that area, because it is where Chris grew up. Our family cabin is just north of Rampart Reservoir. Eagle Lake, where I went to summer camp growing up, should be gone for all intents and purposes, but the fire passed around.

And I'm speechless when I see these things.

It's not that I don't trust God to be who He is. Chris made a comment last night that people are quick to ask where God is when the house is gone, but they never asked where He was in its acquiring. It is sad to see homes and landmarks lost - places where kids grew up, where people were married, where we used to hike and enjoy the creation that God has so graciously given us - but I am so grateful that, at least with the Waldo Canyon Fire, no fatalities have been reported thus far.

Life continues on. It doesn't seem like it will when we see the charred remains and ash is still resting on your car in the morning. But, one day, you drive home and realize the smoke isn't pluming into the sky any longer. One day, it does begin to rain. You celebrate another birthday, another homecoming.

But today, I'm still a little overwhelmed. I am, however, praising God for the rain, for the fact that He protects, and for the blessed assurance that He both sees and knows each and every one of us.

09 June 2012

Weekend Workroom: Library & Cataloging

I love books.

I don't know that anyone who knows me at all would fail to understand that statement. The seasons where I let myself read, I read voraciously.

And for many, many, many years, my dream has been to have my books cataloged and organized and in matching shelves.

Chris has tried to make this dream a reality for several years. In our first year of marriage, at our second residence, he "built in" bookshelves (as much as he could in a rental) to give us a bit of extra storage space and a nice piece for our living room. We added a bookshelf that we used as pantry space at our next residence (since the house we lived in had ample pantry space). Then we migrated everything over to our last apartment (man, we've moved a lot) and just used the same configuration of shelving because a) we had no money, and b) we decided it wasn't worthwhile until we had a permanent address again.

When we moved into our home (yay for permanence) last spring, one of the things I set my heart on was to finally purchase some matching bookshelves and create my long-dreamt-of library, but it was one of the last indoor things we could do because it wasn't an essential piece of making our home work. Because IKEA has finally made its appearance in Colorado, we figured through all the pieces we desired and a timetable in which to purchase each of them.

But we've continued to purchase other things that have been more needed in the meantime, so the project has continued to be pushed off by our circumstances.

For my birthday, Christopher's parents purchased the bookshelves and Christopher assembled and put them in place in our home.

And it is freaking awesome.

This post will kind of do double-duty because there's so much more of my heart wrapped up in it than there probably should be, so it fits here but it also fits over at the renovation blog. There will be other stuff featured at the reno blog, though, if you want to check out some of the other things we've been up to lately (who am I kidding? You can see what Christopher has been up to...).

Our garden level/den looked like this when we moved in:


Yes, the paint on the walls was high gloss. It was everywhere, which is one of the main reasons we painted EVERYTHING. We replaced the light when we moved in, and the carpet and the stairs this past spring, but I digress...

And now it looks like this:

We used the Billy bookcase system from IKEA. I took the measurements for the room and used their Billy planner (http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_US/rooms_ideas/planner_billy/index.html) to figure out how to make the best use of the wall space. The bins on the left shelf are a reddish color (also from IKEA, but I don't remember what they're called), and are the perfect storage space for Christopher's shoes. The chair is a Poang from IKEA, and it's super-comfy. We plan to get a second one in time, but it's a great spot to read, rest, and enjoy the coolness (thermally) of our garden level.

Perhaps the largest piece of this, however, was actually cataloging the books. I wanted a system, but not just one of my own... so I landed on the Dewey Decimal system. It's simpler than the Library of Congress system and a lot of more recently published materials actually include the numbers with the publication information. I still have a few more boxes to go before I'm done, but I've made some pretty incredible headway the past few weeks.

I am a little confused over the difference between [Fic] and the 800 classification for literature, and I can only assume that it has to do with intelligence level ([Fic] being more juvenile fiction; 800s being "literature" with a snooty holding of the head). The "younger" books have been moved upstairs with the bookshelves that used to be downstairs. It seems to work well for us. There also wasn't sufficient room for our bibles on the shelves, so they got their own bin on the Expedit.

For the cataloging, I've been using a freeware program called "Book Hunter." I found it through the Apple App Store. It doesn't have a plethora of bells and whistles, but it does the job and has plenty of color to keep me happy when the books' covers are in the system.

Anyway, I keep looking down the stairs and thinking, "Man, that looks good" and sighing a bit because it's pretty cool.

Next task: Replace the desk. We haven't found one we like yet. Give it time.

07 June 2012

Thursday Thoughts: The Reality of the Gospel for Everyday Life

I am a pleaser. Sometimes this is a good thing (such as the fact that I work hard and diligently as a result) and sometimes it is a bad thing (because I too easily find my moods and worth in how others value what I do and not in its natural value or what I might assign to it). If I don't feel a project will please, I often don't even start it.

When I feel as if I'm failing, I tend to shy away from the foot of the Cross to which I so readily cling. I try to hide my failure, even from the God who so clearly has seen it all and loves me regardless.

But there is compassion for the taking at Jesus' feet! I love Bethany Dillon's song, "Be Near Me":
All I have ever wanted -
and what men have given their lives for -
is a God who understands my weaknesses, a God that I can love.

I cannot believe You are angry or unjust -
You've done nothing but have compassion on us.
So be near when I've given up. Be near me.
Compassion is what stirs me from my hiding. It is the very heart of God in so many ways! Compassion gives life, and takes us from our hiding in the darkness and brings us into the glorious light of life in the Son of God! It lifts our eyes from our failure and brings an understanding of Christ's heart near to us.

Knowing myself and knowing the incredible depths of folly to which I succumb so readily, it is awe-inspiring and humbling to serve a God who understands my weaknesses and failures without my having to bring them out of the dark cubby where I like to hide them.

He is not angry or unjust. Perhaps one of the greatest misconceptions about Christianity is that God exists as a large Judge in the sky, waiting to rain judgement and dole out apt punishment - but I am so grateful that is not an accurate picture of the God I fail and fall before daily!

It is true that He will act as Righteous Judge - He is holy, righteous in all His ways, and any violation of His character by us deserves eternal punishment. We have to start with God. When we start with ourselves, we always will fail in answering the important questions about life here on this round, rotating rock flying in space.

But He is compassionate! Jesus was not a mistake and is not just a man that people follow and cling to blindly. In His knowledge, God set Jesus as the Lamb Slain on the Altar of God before our world was ever born. Just as a parent anticipates the birth of a child, so God looked forward to our arrival. But He knew our sin against His holy nature could too easily separate us from Him as our Father.

So He sent Jesus, fully man in His limitations and fully God in His glory. And He was sent, from the first, to die for us.

Before we were born, God took those steps to prepare for our arrival and to ensure that we would not be wrested from His grasp by others who would claim us as their own.

Before I was born! I need the reality of this in my heart every day or I try to hide behind all that is already exposed and dealt with in the economy of mercy.

05 June 2012

Treasure on a Tuesday: Favorite Classic "Chick" Books

If you have been over to my "Books" page anytime recently, you will likely notice something: I read a lot. This is partially because I love losing myself in stories (good ones, of course) and partially out of reaction to our culture that seems to encourage illiteracy (perhaps I'll elaborate on that in a later post, but the gist is that we're becoming an increasingly simple and visual culture).

Regardless, the result is that I read a lot. My favorites often include female heroines, but please don't confuse my understanding of "chick" books with either romance novels or feminist agenda pieces - I look for simplicity of lifestyle, gentleness of spirit, a little spunk, and characters that challenge me to be better. So far, I am not an Austen fan. Pride and Prejudice was one of the hardest reads I slogged through for my high school literature classes. I hope to someday try again, as I someday hope to complete either Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, both of which I started in middle school...

Here are two of my favorites:

Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery
Perhaps my favorite book of all time, this beautiful novel and its subsequent series (eight books total) are perennial reads - meaning I take a romp through all eight of them every few years. Anne is an orphan, wide-eyed, imaginative, and searching for a place of her own where she can get away from taking care of other people's twins. On a fluke, she is installed in the home of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, an older gentleman and his spinster of a sister - who want a boy to help with their family farm.

But Anne, in spite of all the odds, finds a place in their hearts and their home in this amazing tale of finding beauty in the redemption of forgotten things. The simplicity of life displayed in this (and the other books in the series) challenge me to live simply and in faith.

And because there are seven novels that follow, it is a journey that only begins with this volume. The journey's end is just as breathtaking as its beginning. Rilla of Ingleside, the eighth and final volume, concerns the coming into adulthood of Anne's youngest daughter, Rilla, during the tumult and upheaval of the first World War. In many ways, Montgomery seems to have written each of the preceding books in order to get to this one and have it stand as a testament to the changes in daily life and the innocence stolen from the entire world as the Great War fell upon it.

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
You can easily tell what my favorite books are by the age of the copies on my bookshelf and the fact that I won't let them out of my house. Little Women and Anne of Green Gables easily rank among my oldest tomes. I inherited my copy of Little Women from my maternal grandmother and the pages are so old that the entire thing is falling apart.

But that old book smell is awesome.

I greatly appreciate the March sisters and the way that Alcott so deftly integrates them into the family structure at such different times in their growing up. They are all, first and foremost, family, and then Alcott examines their differences and how they overcome their vanities and faults.

Meg is beautiful and gentle, if a little vain; Jo is intelligent, fiercely loyal, and yet headstrong and independent; Beth is a homebody, a gifted musician, and possesses the most gentle and quiet spirit of any female character I've known; and Amy, the youngest, is impulsive, spunky, vain, and yet somehow endearing in her youthful follies. Their mother is stalwart, raising them and seeking their best in the absence of their father, who has been taken away from them by war.

It is a timeless tale of growing up and seeking to know our own hearts, and it has so much variety in its pages that I never seem to be bored with these beautiful, strong, loyal women - and I see the depths of my own heart better through their lens.